Bobby Gillespie On The Collaborators On Primal Scream's Latest Album

More Light is a classic Primals album; raw, experimental and iconic. Here the frontman talks about the recording process, singing with Robert Plant and why the doubters don't matter...
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More Light is a classic Primals album; raw, experimental and iconic. Here the frontman talks about the recording process, singing with Robert Plant and why the doubters don't matter...

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Something that strikes me about the album is that, at some parts, it's really quite experimental and very musically confident and at other parts it's really commercial. The opening track is titled ‘2013’, was this a statement of intent or 'This is where we are'?

It's just such a monster, epic track that it had to be the first track and it just happens to be that the lyrics were a critique of youth culture.  We're living in very extreme times, but that doesn't seem to be reflected in the music that I hear or the art that I see. It seems that people are either anaesthetised, or they just don't care. There's no sense of revolt or resistance in art at the moment, whether it be music or the visual arts. I guess you're always quite voyeuristic as an artist, you're always taking information and storing ideas away, yet I just feel that at the moment, that rock 'n' roll or rock musicians are either tranquillised, or they don't care. Our songs kind of deal with that issue. We’re saying, 'Where are the angry voices? Where's the protest? Why's nobody protesting? Why's everybody silent?'

The guitars are by Andrew and Kevin Shields on that track. Kevin was a member of Primal Scream live for about nine years. Having him on ‘2012’ was a production choice, it's like 'We know there's something missing in this track; what do we need?' and in '2013' it was like 'We need Shields. It’s got to be somebody out of the ordinary that'll bring a textual, psychedelic, psychotic, high energy element.’ What Kev does is very abstract, but also very beautiful.

It is beautiful. Something that struck me was that it's, lyrically, quite an intense album. There are quite a lot of serious themes in there and yet musically, I think it's a very free, confident album. How do you actually write the albums? Is it a degree of you and [Andrew] Innes create the music and then you put the lyrics afterwards or...?

We don't write every song the same way. There might be a drum loop and Andrew just starts a guitar rift or a bass line and then I start singing on top of that and I might not have any words, but in 'Tenement Kid' I sang the melody and then I sang “I dunno why, I dunno why” as the chorus and then we kept it. Then, later on, I wrote the idea of the song, what I should write about, came to me and eventually the last thing we got was the lyrics, but we built the song around the melody and the base line and the drum loop and then we built from there.

‘Walking with the Beast’ is one of the stand out tracks of the album for me. The obvious reference is there's a little bit of Phil Spector in there, there's a bit of the Velvets, but it reminded me of the early Mary Chain.

I can see why you would think that. The melodies kind of like Mary Chain, Velvetsy; yeah I can see. I think 'Walking with the Beast' was Andrew, myself and Darrin Mooney on drums. Andrew played dulcimer, Darrin played drums, Andrew played bass, I sang and Martin Duffy played some organ and I think Darrin had put some percussion in it and I think that was it. It's quite a small band on that one.

Was it ‘Invisible City’ that Davey Henderson played on?

Davey Henderson plays guitar on ‘Invisible Cities’. Dave was a singer and guitarist in a band called ‘The Fire Engines’, who were a huge, massive inspiration to us, even before we began playing music and when we did begin playing music, they were a huge influence on us. They were one of the reasons we started the band. He’s also in 'The Sexual Objects’; I've got to give 'The Sexual Objects’ a plug.

How did his contribution come about?

We have a friendship with Davey and we love his guitar playing; he plays guitar in a very unusual, fantastic, sexy way, so we always wanted him to play some guitar on this track because it has that wired, kind of strange, kind of rhythm to it. We wanted some wired kind of Davey Henderson guitar, so he played guitar. Davey hasn't heard the track; he played guitar on an early version without words and a different structure, and it became this. The only thing we kept from the earlier track was Davey's guitar. He also plays the lead guitar– riff break, hook break kind of thing on 'Turn Each Other Inside Out'.

What’s the normal band set up, in terms of members?

In terms of the main band and the majority of tracks; Andrew Innes plays a lot of different instruments, Darrin Mooney on drums, me vocals and most of the base on the album was played by Jason Faulkner, who's a guy who was introduced to us by David Holmes; Jason's from LA and he's a fantastic base player. Andrew played base on 'Walking with the Beast' and 'Sideman'. Everything else was Jason. And I think Marco Nelson played on 'Tenement Kid' and maybe one more, I'm not sure. Jason he's played live with Air and he's played on records and live with Beck and he's got his own solo career.

Had you worked with David Holmes before?

We worked with David Holmes at the end of the 90's on a couple of solo records. We wrote some songs with him and I sang on a couple of tracks, Andrew played some guitar, but we've been friends with David since then, since the 90's.

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There’s a cinematic feel to the album, it's very layered. It's an album you can just have on playing and things kind of catch you. Was David Holmes soundtrack work an influence with the things he was bringing in?

I think working with Holmes lent itself to working in that way. We always knew it wasn't going to be a straight ahead, balls to the wall, high energy rock 'n' roll, two guitars, bass and drum record. It's more sophisticated, layered, cinematic and orchestral and obviously working with Holmes we were hoping to make a record more in keeping with that vision, but I've got to give Andrew Innes the credit for just his musicality and also Holmes, as well, has got to get credit for allowing us to play like that and think like that, but David also brought in some great musicians like horn players, the drummer, the bass player and the percussionists.

You’ve also got a few free rock and jazz sections. Was there a lot there you had to cut back or did you use as much of it as you'd created?

We edited a lot of the stuff and when Holmes came in and listened to the edits, then he just refined what we'd edited, so between Holmes and us, I think we did a pretty good job and Holmes is great for saying 'Get rid of that, get rid of that' (and we'd be like) 'It's alright, it's OK Holmes, we've done an early version of that' and David said 'It's great, but I think you need a...' – maybe it was 'Invisible City', I can't remember which one – but Holmes said 'I think you need a middle eight so we wrote the middle eight, which a producer is supposed to tell you stuff like that. In 'River of Pain' there's a free jazz section, that's actually some guys from the Sunlight Orchestra. Marshal Allen and Douglas Feldom.

Let's move on to some of the other tracks. Talk us through, 'Goodbye Johnny', where did you record that and write that?

The story behind ‘Goodbye Johnny’ was that we were given a pre-Gun Club demo of a song by Jeffrey Lee Pierce called 'Goodbye Johnny' which was acoustic guitar and vocal, so we kept lyrics and we wrote a whole new song and brand new music. It was originally a Jeffrey Lee Pierce lyric, and we completely wrote new music and new melody and new song structure.

Could you just explain a little bit about Jeffrey Lee Pierce and the Gun Club? Because I imagine the music fans probably wouldn't be aware of them.

Jeffrey Lee Pierce was the singer and songwriter for the Gun Club. A really fantastic band; a really beautiful figure; a really great songwriter, great lyricist, great looking guy, always well dressed, always had an amazing look on. Favourite albums of his that I own are 'The Fire of Love', which is the first album and the second one which is called 'Miami'.

Are there any other songs you collaborated with ‘outsiders’ on?

Oh yeah, 'Turn Each Other Inside Out'. David Meltzer, who was around at the time of the Beats, and I took a poem of his and he kindly let us rearrange, restructure and we made it into the song 'Turn Each Other Inside Out'. We started that track in LA and it was me, Andrew, Jason Faulkner on bass and then we brought it here and Darrin put drums on it and at the point it didn't have lyrics for it, I had a melody, but I needed lyrics so I was going to either use the lyrics from a song called 'Nothing is Real, Nothing is Unreal', but I ended up using the Melzter poem for this instead. So Meltzer gets a credit. I've been e-mailing him and he absolutely loves the track, he's really blown away by it.

Let's talk about the last two tracks, 'It's Alright, It's OK', again a very upbeat number.  You still hear albums that fucking trail away towards the end. Do you still do that thing that people used to do when albums were on vinyl where the end of the first side, track six, and then the start of the second, track seven, is that still in your mind?

When Andrew's trying to sequence the album, he thinks about it like a double album, but the sequence for this was actually done by Holmes this time and he wanted to run like a film so that '2013' would be the opening credits and then bang, 'River of Pain' you're right into the action, right into the film and then he wanted it to take you on some kind of trip/journey type thing and he wanted 'It's Alright, It's OK' to be like the end credits where you go out feeling up.

You mentioned Andrew played the bass on 'Sideman'. It's a great musician’s phrase 'Sideman', isn't it?

Yeah, but it's more about someone who's at your side, who everybody thinks is a decent chap, but really he's a bit of a creep. You know people who are really well mannered and smiling and they kind of seduce people by being a nice guy, but really there's something else going on. It could be about somebody who doesn't really know who they are; they're searching for an identity, they've assumed this role and identity and eventually after years of playing this part, that part becomes a fucking personality, so maybe that kind of character, but it's got nothing to do with musicians.

What’s the story behind 'Elimination Blues'?

That's kind of like a free form blues track that we made up on the spot, but it's not really like blues, but it's our version of the blues; kind of swampy, European. It was just me and Andrew jamming and it became this song and then we added drums to it and we kind of wrote it in this studio, but recorded it in LA. It was just me, Andrew and a drummer in LA. Actually, Darrin plays drums on this one. When we brought it back here, we added more stuff to it and we needed a high voice for it, but we knew it wasn't a girl and we thought Robert Plant, he's a friend of ours. I saw him at the start of last year, he was here for four days, five days, and I bumped into him in the street.

He lives near your studio, doesn't he?

Yeah, he lives nearby and had a good chat and he was asking what we were doing and how we were getting on, if we had a new record coming out. I told him we had mostly finished the record, but there was still some stuff that we needed to do and he said 'Well, if you need me for anything, you know how to get in touch with me'. I came back up to the studio, told Andre that I bumped into Robert and told him what he said and we both looked at each other and said: 'The track. He's the guy we need for the track'. So we got in touch with him and he came down a couple of days later and he nailed it. It was amazing. I stood there and I'd take the headphones off and I could hear him sing, just me and Robert Plant in the room.

He still has that sort of: He's Robert Plant. It's the same with Jimmy Page. I saw him at a party last year and...it's Jimmy Page.

I know, I know. I got hugged by Jimmy Page, twice last year, I was just like...Aaaahhh! I was walking on air after that. Nah, he was lovely, they're both lovely.

Tell us about Mark Stewart’s contribution to the album?

Andrew wrote the bass line for ‘Cultureside’ and Marco played it. He sings on the choruses of that song, too. We had the whole song written and recorded, all the music done, all the lyrics done, the only thing it didn't have was a chorus hook; and I remembered that we done a session with Mark once and he was using this phrase ‘cultureside’, so I asked him if we could use it. He said yes, then I asked him to come up and sing on the track, so me and him both sing on 'Cultureside'.

Did Adrian Sherwood help out on that song?

No, Mark produced it himself, but Douglas did a video for one of the songs called 'Autonomy' which I sang on and Keith Levene and Mark Stewart sang on too, so it's a Mark Stewart song, Mark Stewart's lyrics, but he had me sing it and Sherwood recorded it. Mark is also a hero because we love the Pop Group and Mark's solo stuff. He’s a great lyricist and one of my favourite solo singers.  When I played 'Cultureside' to my wife, she thought it was John Lydon that was singing.

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When you're making an album, or recording an individual song, do you ever feel any element of competition with any other artists?

No, we're never trying to compete with other artists, we're trying to make the best record that we can make, but you obviously want to make a record as good as the records that inspire you, but I think we're good at what we do and I think we've got better. I think we're good song writers. It's a craft and I think we're good musicians and singers, and producers as well. We know when somebody's good, when we can work with somebody, I mean, as soon as David introduced us to Jason Faulkner, the bass player, we were like 'Woah. So, it's not that you're competing with your heroes or other contemporary musicians, it's just that you're trying to express yourself in the best possible manner that you can.

Finally, What's going to be on the sleeve of 'More Light'?

An artist called Jim Lambie is an old friend of ours and he's kindly said he would do a cover image for us, so he's in the process of doing that at the moment.

I love that title, ‘More Light’, where did it come from?

I've just got a thing about light. I'm quite sensitive to light and I guess it's kind of shining light on any kind of areas that are like normally dark or hiding away or places that things that people don't want to talk about or embarrassed about. I love it in the morning when you open the big curtains or shutters and light pours in. I like that feeling and I think it's like a regenerative thing, an inspiring thing and it's positive as well because some of our album titles like 'Exterminate' or 'Vanishing Point, 'Evil Heat' are quite intense, and I think this album's intense, but I think it's forward thinking. I guess the world's a dark place and we could do with more light in. It sounds a bit clichéd, but I don't know what else to say. I mean I could sit here and pretend to tell you why I thought it was a good title, but everybody seems to like it, so, if anybody doesn't like it, then fuck 'em, you know? They can go and eat my shite.